by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
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SEDRAH SELECTIONS PARSHAS SHOFTIM 5762 BS"D
Ch. 16, v. 18: "Shoftim v'shotrim ti'ten l'cho b'chol sh'o'recho" - Judges and officers shall you place for yourself in all your gates - The word "l'cho" seems superfluous. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein answers that this teaches us that a person is held responsible to judge his own actions, to decide if he is behaving properly, and if he isn't, then he should make himself the officer to enforce corrective measures. He should not be lured to excuse himself from doing this by way of flimsy excuses, self-induced bribes (as per verse 19). Thus "ti'ten L'CHO," place judges and officer upon yourself.
Ch. 16, v. 19: "V'lo sikach shochad ki hashochad y'a'veir" - And you shall not accept a bribe because a bribe will blind - The gemara Sanhedrin 21b states: Rabbi Yehudoh said, "Why does the Torah not tell us the underlying reason for mitzvos? The answer is because in the two places where the Torah did give a reason, King Shlomo the greatest person of his generation, fell through. The Torah states that a king shall not take too many wives lest his heart turn away from proper service of Hashem (Dvorim 17:17). King Shlomo reasoned that he was capable of taking many wives and still staying on the straight and narrow. Nevertheless, his wives turned his heart away from Hashem.
The Divrei Sho'ul and Imrei Emes ask, "According to this gemara why does our verse give us the reason for not accepting bribes?" They both answer that here there is no fear that a person might reason that he is above being affected by bribery since the Torah testifies that by taking a bribe the judge's sound judgment will be blinded. Once blinded, the judge will not be aware that he is blinded, so how could he rationalize taking bribe?
Ch. 16, v. 20: "Tzedek tzedek tirdof l'maan tichyeh v'yorashto es ho'oretz" - Righteousness righteousness shall you pursue so that you will live and inherit the land - Rash (Sifri 16:4) says that for appointing proper judges we will merit to live and to live in the Holy Land. Why does Rashi stress APPOINTING proper judges rather than saying that by judging and carrying through the judgment properly we will merit ..? The Baal Ho'a'keidoh by the incident of S'dom in parshas Va'yeiroh asks why the people were dealt with so harshly, their communities were totally destroyed, and by the incident of "pi'legesh b'Givoh" they were not judged as harshly. He answers that by Givoh, although there were many people who behaved in an extremely improper manner, nevertheless, the law of the land did not allow for such behaviour. However, by S'dom laws were enacted that permitted perverted behaviour. This is much worse. Thus the Sifri is telling us that even the appointment of proper judges who will enact proper laws, even if many people will not be law abiding, brings the merits of life and inhabiting the Holy Land. (Shov Shmat'so in his preface)
Ch. 16, v. 20,21: "Tzedek tzedek tirdof, Lo sita l'cho asheiroh kol eitz" - Righteousness righteousness shall you pursue, You shall not plant for yourself a tree for worship any tree - The juxtaposition of these verses can be explained as follows: We were just told to appoint proper judges and not to accept bribes. Similarly one should not plant a tree, an object from which one could reap benefits from its produce, near a stone altar. An altar is inanimate stone and gives no fruit. So too, your judges should act in a way that will give no advantageous benefit for one litigant over the other.
Ch. 17, v. 1: "Lo sizbach ... asher y'h'yeh vo moom" - You shall not sacrifice .. which WILL HAVE a blemish - The Sifri 16:8 derives from the word "y'h'yeh," future form, that a blemish only disqualifies if it is a permanent one, one that will continue to exist. The Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh suggests that we can also derive that if an organ of the animal has a disorder that can only be rectified by amputation, although the disorder is not yet a blemish in its own right, nevertheless, since the only treatment is amputation, we consider it as if the amputation has already taken place, and the animal is disqualified.
Ch. 17, v. 6: "Al pi shnayim eidim o shloshoh eidim yumas ha'meis lo yumas al pi eid echod" - By the testimony of two witnesses or three witnesses shall the guilty person be put to death he shall not be put to death by the testimony of one witness - The Chizkuni says that although we know that one witness is insufficient even for money matters (Dvorim 19:15), we might believe that he is believed when it comes to matters of life and death, as the seriousness of the punishment is a deterrent to lying. Therefore our verse tells us that even by life judgments one witness is not believed. Haksav V'hakaboloh says that it is necessary for our verse to tell us that three witnesses are believed regarding rulings that carry the death penalty. If not for our verse we might think that when three witnesses testify that a sin that carries the death penalty has been perpetrated in front of all three of them it is logical to assume that it just cannot be, as one would never commit such a severe sin in front of three people (three are a crowd). It is therefore necessary to tell us that EVEN three are believed.
Ch. 17, v. 20: "Ulvilti sur l'vovo min hamitzvoh" - And that his heart should not turn away from the command - Shouldn't the verse have said "min hamitzvOS"? The Sfas Emes explains that this is an exhortation for the king to specifically safeguard the mitzvoh that he was commanded.
The Chofetz Chaim uses this concept to explain the gemara Yoma 22b, which states that King Sho'ul had one transgression and it affected him adversely, i.e. he lost the kingship, while King Dovid had two transgressions and he retained the kingship. The gemara Yerushalmi perek Kohei Godol relates that the letter Yud of the word "yarbeh" in "v'lo yarbeh lo noshim" (verse 17) complained to Hashem that King Shlomo transgressed it by taking too many wives. Hashem responded that King Shlomo and another thousand like him would be negated before even one letter of the Torah would ch"v be negated. The Chofetz Chaim explains that if a king were to not fulfill the mitzvoh of tefillin, mezuzoh, etc., there would still be many other members of the bnei Yisroel who would fulfill them, but a mitzvoh that is singularly the king's and he does not fulfill it results in the mitzvoh being totally negated. Thus, King Sho'ul, by allowing his heart to become prideful transgressed the mitzvoh of "l'vilti room l'vovo," a mitzvoh specifically given to the king. (The mitzvoh of not being haughty given to all of the bnei Yisroel is derived from "v'rom l'vovcho" (Dvorim 8:14), as per the gemara Sotoh 5a.) King Dovid's transgressions were not specifically king related, so they did not impact as strongly.
Ch. 20, v. 16: "Lo s'cha'yeh kol n'shomoh" - Do not allow any soul to remain alive - Rabbeinu Efrayim writes that the reason that all Canaanites are to be killed is that they are all magicians and the Torah states "m'chasheifoh lo s'chayeh" (Shmos 22:17). It is interesting to note that the "Mesorah" on the verse in Mishpotim connects the words "lo s'cha'yeh" in these two verses. According to Rabbeinu Efrayim this is very well understood.
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